The most common birds in the Chattanooga area, plus other fun local birding facts

Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / A female Northern Cardinal perches in a tree above a retention pond off of Gunbarrel Road in East Brainerd. Northern Cardinals are the most common bird species observed in Hamilton County, according to data.

The Chattanooga area is known for its biological diversity, but the abundance of bird species that call the region home and migrate through the area may be surprising even to those who think of themselves as nature lovers. For those who have yet to get into birdwatching, we've compiled a few statistics that provide a glimpse at the area's most common species, the places where birds are most frequently observed and surprising facts about their migration.

In addition to being a fun hobby that connects people to nature, birdwatching contributes to scientific research and conservation efforts that benefit the environment as a whole. Citizens who report species observations on birding website eBird provide a statistically significant amount of data that can be used to track the movement, decline or resurgence of a particular species. That information helps direct scientific research into the cause of a species' decline and allows authorities to implement measures to conserve vulnerable populations, according to the site.

If you haven't yet started checking must-see bird species off your birdwatching list, use the following information as your inspiration to make a contribution to citizen science.

  photo  Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / A tree swallow watches its mate come in for a landing on a nest box. Many birdwatchers can remember a time when these birds did not breed in the Chattanooga area.

Migration by the Numbers

60-100: Hours some birds continue migration in nonstop flights, sometimes spanning oceans and continents

30-45: Minutes migrating birds generally take off after sunset

10,000: Feet above ground migrating birds regularly fly, although seasonal timing and weather conditions drastically affect their distributions

3,870,000: Birds crossed through Hamilton County the night of November 1, 2022

89,000: Approximate minimum number of sandhill cranes (eastern population) that pass through and winter in Tennessee

Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, migration dashboard for Hamilton County

Local Birding Data

332: Bird species observed in Hamilton County, which has the third greatest number of bird species of all Tennessee counties. Shelby (353 species) and Lake (343 species) counties claim the top two spots.

436: Bird species observed in Tennessee

96: Birding hot spots in Hamilton County. The top three are Chester Frost Park (224 species), Brainerd Levee (220 species) and Baylor School (219 species).

2,137: Birding hot spots in Tennessee. The top hot spots in Tennessee are Ensley Bottoms in Memphis (316 species), the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Duck River Unit in New Johnsonville (306 species) and Shelby Farms Park in Memphis (270 species).

Top 20 most common birds in Hamilton County, by number of observations (all-time, year-round):

Northern Cardinal: 33,473

Carolina Chickadee: 28,174

Carolina Wren: 27,527

Mourning Dove: 25,145

Tufted Titmouse: 24,158

Northern Mockingbird: 24,104

American Robin: 23,766

Blue Jay: 23,455

American Crow: 22,562

Downy Woodpecker: 20,560

Eastern Bluebird: 20,367

House Finch: 20,308

Red-bellied Woodpecker: 20,218

Eastern Towhee: 19,564

Song Sparrow: 17,376

European Starling: 16,432

American Goldfinch: 15,405

White-breasted Nuthatch: 13,723

Brown Thrasher: 13,099

Great Blue Heron: 13,028

Source: data

  photo  Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / With rain beading up on its iridescent plumage, a tree swallow watches its mate come in for a landing on a nest box below Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee Riverwalk.

Conservation by the Numbers

6: Maximum months of jail time, in addition to a fine of up to $500, for killing a protected bird in Tennessee

100 million: Birds killed every year across North America by collisions with windows

83: Percentage by which bird deaths could be reduced by turning off lights or closing blinds

Fun Facts About Common Bird Species in the Chattanooga Area

Male and female Carolina Chickadees can remain paired for several years, with birds in areas with lower populations less likely to maintain bonds. Nearly all pairs remain together for years in Texas, but only half stay together in Tennessee. Females may seek out a new male in a different territory if a nesting attempt fails.

Often found along area waterways such as lakeshores, streams, ponds and the Tennessee River, Great Blue Herons primarily eat fish and have been known to choke to death trying to eat a fish that is too large to swallow.

Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

  photo  Staff file photo / A Great Blue Herron perches on a fishing dock at Chester Frost Park in Hixson. The park is the top birding hot spot in Hamilton County, with 224 species of birds observed by users.